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"Illegal" release of unused Narmada waters to help North Gujarat rich farmers harms saltpan workers

By Our Representative
The Gujarat government’s failure to develop the Narmada canal network to take irrigation waters to the footsteps of the farmers’ fields in North Gujarat and beyond has begun to harm hundreds of saltpan workers in the Little Rann of Kutch. According to the latest information available from the Rann, the Narmada waters, considered the lifeline of Gujarat, are allowed to flow relentlessly into the Rann’s wide expanses via Banas river without taking into account whom is it may harming. In fact, government officials’ explanation is, in case they do not release the unused waters into the Rann, it might “harm the canal” – hence they have “no other option but to release them.”
According to the information received from the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd (SSNNL), the work for the Kutch branch may have begun but there is no portion where it has been completed. Meanwhile, unused Narmada waters continue flowing, and powerful interests led by local BJP MLA Shankar Chaudhury illegally use the waters for the rich farmers’ advantage in Patan and Banaskantha districts. A senior official revealed, “Uninterrupted flow of Narmada waters is illegally allowed to be released into Banas river. Only 10 per cent of the waters are used. The rest of them go waste. The result is that waters overflow into the Rann of Kutch, harming the saltpan workers.”

The waters are generally being released from a spot which is a little ahead of the place where the Kutch canal branches off from the Narmada main canal in North Gujarat. The branch canal is currently under construction, and it is planned to help farmers of Banaskantha and Patan districts as also those of Kutch district. The total command area of the Kutch branch canal is 1.76 hectares (ha), out of which 63,111 ha is in Banaskantha and Patan districts, while the rest is in the Kutch district – around 1.13 ha. “Without waiting for the canal network to be completed, the local interests ensure that waters are siphoned off from the Kutch branch canal”, the sources said.
The official explanation for failure to use Narmada waters is that “it has to do done” in order to ensure that the canal does not experience a breach. However, the result of such uninterrupted flow towards the Rann via Banas river has led to a situation where many of the saltpan workers have been forced to represent to the local officials that this is harming their livelihood, but to no avail. Their saltpans, which require saline water, available aplenty underground in the Rann, get flooded with sweet water. “They have pleaded to the executive engineer, Narmada office in Chanasma, not to release Narmada waters like this. They have also represented to the local revenue officials about this”, sources said. 
During start of this new season for growing salt after the monsoon, the saltpan workers even collected a sum of Rs 70,000 to repair the kutcha road across the Banas river into the desert. They had hoped that this would ensure regular supply of drinking water, mobile health van, and mobile ration van to them. “But within a week, the Narmada department released water from the sub-canal, and the road and the bridge got washed away”, a local social worker said, adding, “This is harming large areas, including Santalpur, Maliya and Kharaggoda regions of the Little Rann of Kutch.”
Meanwhile, helped by the Agariya Heet Rakshak Manch, which represents the saltpan workers in the area, the saltpan workers are planning to hold a demonstration in front of the mamlatdar’s office in Santalpur against the rampant release of Narmada waters into Banas river, which crosses into the Rann. However, officials believe, things would not improve until the Narmada canal network is completed. As of today, not only the canal network to take waters to the farms but even the branch canal which is proposed to help the farmers of Banaskantha, Patan and Kutch district is incomplete. In fact, the branch canal’s 33 per cent of the mudwork, 25 per cent of the linking and 60 per cent of the concreting remains to be done. Of the total 5.6 lakh ha out of 18 lakh ha completed in the total Narmada comment, work has not even begun in any of the three districts.

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